‘Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength”’ (Is 28:18).
These are not words used today, but they fit the feast and fit the readings. And they fit us. We are made for rest.
Recently I was at the top of Shetland, on the island of Unst, in sight of the lighthouse on Muckle Flugga, the northernmost point of Britain. I was on a high hill. The sun was shining, the sky was cloudless and blue, the air was warm, visibility was good. I could see the hills sloping away, the occasional house, glistening sand on the shore line, inlets of sea and the sea itself. It was calm and still, with just birds swooping, sheep grazing and a couple cutting peat half a mile below. There was peace. And I thought, ‘How good it would be to forget everything and stay here.’ I felt like Peter, James and John on Mt Tabor…until reason whispered, ‘Remember January: dark at 2pm, a gale force wind, horizontal rain, one degree above freezing.’
We are made for rest – it’s true. But people are better providers of it than places. Hearts offer more than landscapes. What really heals our wounds is the open, loving, accepting heart – of friends, of family. Peace is being with those whom we love and who love us. Love is the thing. After a difficult day or defeats or a muck up, it’s that we long to return to and rest in.
And God knows our hearts. He knows there are things we can’t confide even to those closest to us, that human affections change and, worst of all, that the people we love die. And so he provides. Israel, the wandering sheep in the desert, was told: ‘The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land’ (Josh 1:13). The ‘land’, in the end, is Jesus. The Father has sent his Son into the restless world and raised him up on the Cross. He allowed a soldier to unlock his heart and open a door to a place of rest. The heart of Christ is the love of Christ. The love of Christ has all the marks of 1 Corinthians 13. It is patient and kind. It carries and bears. It heals and transforms. Today’s prayers speak of its ‘wonders’, of its ‘boundless treasures’. They call it ‘overflowing’, ‘surpassing’. It’s a fountain that washes. It’s a banquet that fills. It’s ‘good pasturage’, ‘good grazing’. It’s a ‘house’. It’s ‘home.’ If we try to go through the door opened by the lance bloated with self-righteousness, blaming others or expecting our Lord to condone our sins, we will be too fat to fit. But if we’re conscious of our burdens and our mistakes and our falling short, if we’re aware of our miseria, we slip through easily. If we trust rather than fear. Even if we don’t feel particularly cut up about our sins, but want to be sorry for them, or want to want to be, then we’ll find we’re safe on the shoulders of the shepherd. I remember a young nun saying of Christ, ‘I just find him scary’. That’s healthy, actually, but we have to go further: through the door of mercy, as it were, in quietness and in trust.
Here’s the rub. The heart of Christ is the place of refuge God has given us poor wandering sheep. And it is vast. It’s not a small, remote island on the great sea of life. It contains that sea with all its perils. It contains everything. It’s larger than the universe and the infinite expanses of space. It’s greater than cancer or mental illness. ‘The mind has mountains’ but the love of God shown in Christ is higher and deeper. It envelops and overpowers any sin. It is home. The Father was Christ’s place of refuge, and Christ’s heart is ours. His heart holds everything.
“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
If we take that path, if we make the pilgrimage to his merciful heart, then something happens to ours. ‘Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like your heart.’ Through Holy Communion, his heart enters our heart and gives it rest. So we can become places of rest for each other. Our parishes, our communities, our families, our selves can be this. This isn’t an invitation to a mushy, squashy, ‘everything-goes’, ‘it’s all fine’, liberalism. It is a matter of being Christ-like, of sharing the mercy we have received. It’s something from God. It’s linked to humility and repentance. It’s the peace of forgiveness. ‘Keep yourself at peace,’ said St Seraphim of Sarov, ‘and thousands round you will be saved.’
May this be the grace of today: a restful heart, rested in Christ and offering that rest to the restless. Amen.